Belong to Me

All of my life, love had trumped sadness and anger. It had been that kind of a life. Let it continue, I prayed. Let me do the right thing.

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos is another one of those books that I bought a while ago at a library booksale because I knew it was on my TBR list. I didn’t remember why, or what it was supposed to be about. I’m trying to clean out my shelves a little bit now, though, and part of that involves reading going through all the books that are still unread.

I sat down to test out the first chapter introducing Cornelia, a woman in her thirties who has just moved with her husband Teo from NYC to a small suburban neighborhood. She is bright, bubbly, and somehow instantly at odds with her ice-queen neighbor Piper, who is obsessed with appearances and perfection for her husband and two children. Great, I thought to myself. One of those fish-out-of-water queen bee stories for adults. A Housewives tale on paper. I’ll give it one more chapter before deciding.

I actually read the entire book that Sunday. It turned out to be a far cry from what I expected, both from the jacket and the first chapter, but it was very well done. I quickly found myself caring about the characters that de los Santos creates. Piper becomes instantly humanized as she copes with her best friend Elizabeth’s cancer-related decline. The two families have lived picture-perfect lives together, and now everything is crumbling. As Cornelia struggles to find a niche, she is befriended by Lake, who has also recently moved to town. She left her husband when her teenaged son Dev was just a baby, and has been supporting the two of them with low-end jobs ever since. Dev is a gifted and philosophical student, with a special affinity for Darwin and physics. After a horrible year of being bullied in public school, he’s finally beginning to shine at the private school they moved across the country for him to attend.

Belong to Me is not that plot-heavy, at least compared to most of the books I read. The real joy is getting to know the characters and de los Santos’ writing style. Cornelia and Dev in particular have lovely voices. Cornelia and Teo also have the sweetest known-each-other-since-they-were-five marriage. I’m a sucker for childhood sweethearts, but this is done is such a way that their romance still feels powerful and immediate. They are the couple that everyone else in the book aspires to be. (And also, apparently, the main characters from the previous novel, Love Walked In, which is also on my TBR. How can you publish a book and not mention anywhere on it inside or out that it is a sequel of sorts?)

One (perhaps unintended) message I brought away from the book is the enforced realization that extramarital affairs really do throw a wrench in the works. (I’ll admit upfront that this has always been a personal belief for me, but I saw it more from a practical sense in this book. This is my own reaction and not a judgment on anyone.) They can destroy a marriage, when the husband and wife no longer make each other a priority. Plus, there is the issue of children born out of wedlock, which this book tackles. Dev grows up without knowing who or where his father is. A couple in the book finds out that they are pregnant after they have already broken up. I don’t think that every family needs to fit the traditional definition, and blended or single-parent families have no less love than blood-linked ones (this is pretty much de los Santos’ main theme). It just makes it a bit more complicated, sometimes.

Also, can someone who has read the book please explain to me the significance of the cover image? I’ll give it credit for not showing a headless woman, and for being a pretty color combination, but after that I’m stuck.

Sometimes I feel bad about my obvious preferences in reading choices. I tend to gravitate towards mystery and suspense, or quirky vintage charm, as a substitute for what often seems to be lacking in daily life. My first choice is not to read about women with friendship problems or the trials of motherhood; perhaps in a different phase of my life it will seem more relevant. When I do read these books however, I’m pleasantly surprised. For example, I went on a big Elizabeth Berg binge when I was around 18, and fell in love with her poetic writing style. Does anyone have recommendations for other books or authors of this type? I’ve never even read a Jennifer Weiner or Jodi Piccoult to know how they compare. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Published in: on June 25, 2012 at 7:01 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] asks for a dinner party. I’d never heard of this until Cornelia called it her comfort food in Belong to Me. I also realized I was entirely wrong in assuming that capers were some sort of sea food, as […]

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